The inception of pickleball came about quite serendipitously.
In 1965, U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard, in an attempt to find a pastime for his bored children, improvised by grabbing two wooden paddles and a plastic baseball. He adjusted the badminton net in his backyard to an appropriate height, and the kids began to play.
Twelve years later, the world witnessed its first official pickleball match, marking the beginning of the sport’s professionalization. By 1984, the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association was established, fervently promoting the widespread adoption of the sport.
In recent years, especially following the pandemic, pickleball has seen a rapid surge in North America. According to data from the Professional Pickleball Association, between August 2021 and August 2022, over 36.5 million Americans took up the sport, constituting approximately 10.99% of the country’s population. To put that in perspective, the number was merely 5 million in 2021.
Drew Waze, an official of the American Pickleball Association, highlighted, “The sudden popularity of pickleball can be attributed to the fact that many of its courts are repurposed tennis courts. In several areas, one basketball court has even been transformed into two pickleball courts.”
This surge in the sport has concurrently boosted its market value year after year. The data reveals that in 2015, the pickleball market was valued at $810 million, which skyrocketed to $1.196 billion by 2019. As of now, the market has consistently grown at an annual rate of 10%, twice recognized by the U.S. Sports and Fitness Industry Association as America’s fastest-growing sport.
Our venture into the realm of pickleball racquets wasn’t merely by chance.
Previously, our core business was manufacturing carbon fiber components. We operated a modest-sized factory located in an industrial area near Dongguan’s Nancheng. Managed jointly by Mr. and Mrs. Gong, both born in the mid-1980s and speaking with a Cantonese-Mandarin accent, they typically donned aqua-blue uniforms, overseeing production across various factory lines.
In 2018, during the initial boom of the U.S. pickleball market, the Gongs inadvertently discovered the overseas demand for carbon-fiber pickleball paddles was skyrocketing. After thorough research, they decided to pivot and start manufacturing these paddles.
“If we hadn’t chosen to produce pickleball paddles, our progression would have been predictable – evolving from a small to a larger factory. But this path offered immense growth opportunities and potential,” shared Alex Gong. Given the competitive pricing pressures in the traditional carbon fiber component sector, they were already contemplating a shift. Their accumulated resources and experience in the carbon fiber industry fortified their confidence in venturing into the pickleball paddle market.
Their conviction was further bolstered by their insights into the pickleball paddle market. With the rapid ascent of pickleball as a popular sport, it was only natural for its related sportswear and equipment to experience similar growth. And in 2018, the pickleball paddle market was truly an untapped “blue ocean.”
Taking the proactive step into this booming pickleball market proved to be both decisive and astute for us.
When it came to selling pickleball paddles in the U.S. market, Amazon was the obvious platform. However, a pivotal decision loomed for Mr. and Mrs. Gong: Should they establish their own brand or simply opt for white-label sales?
At the time, many Chinese sellers viewed Amazon as a springboard for exporting products. Instead of investing time and effort into brand development, they prioritized sales. Following their lead would have been an easier path for us.
Nevertheless, we chose to build our own pickleball paddle brand—Niupipo, inspired by “Nothing Is Unreachable, Pickleball People”. We partnered with the brand promotion service provider Haofang Group for joint operations, ensuring smooth overseas business expansion.
Entering the carbon fiber business in 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Gong founded their factory in 2016. Despite a decade of business experience, launching an international brand was not without challenges.
“Often, after buying a batch of carbon fiber materials, we had to balance the production schedules of components and Niupipo orders. It was complex,” reflected Alex Gong.
Shortly after Niupipo’s debut on Amazon, the factory was flooded with orders, skyrocketing it to the top sales ranks. Yet, what Alex Gong recalls as “the darkest months” soon followed.
In July 2019, Niupipo faced allegations of patent infringement regarding the paddle grip. This legal issue led to a suspension of Niupipo products on Amazon. Looking back, Alex Gong lamented, “During that period, our sales were halted. We had produced stock, but payments were virtually non-existent, halting all our factory lines.”
On the brink of bankruptcy, Haofang Group swiftly assisted us with background checks on the complainants, infringement analyses, and evidence gathering. Their efforts culminated in the withdrawal of the complaint. Our Amazon sales resumed after three tumultuous months.
Those three months, however, were crucial. Brands like Nike, Head, and New Balance were rapidly expanding their market share. By 2019, their respective market shares were 15.24%, 10.92%, and 6.86%.
Fortunately, after the litigation, Niupipo swiftly reclaimed its top position on Amazon, a testament to its brand strength.
Alex Gong explained that while the technical barriers in the pickleball paddle industry aren’t high, many small factories resort to imitating and undercutting prices. Our approach for Niupipo, however, focused on brand specialization.
“To truly excel, the brand must continuously cater to professionals,” noted Tang Fang, the project director of Haofang Group, who accompanied Niupipo’s growth.
We increased brand visibility by endorsing professional pickleball players and prominently featuring in professional tournaments—utilizing banners, billboards, athlete attire logos, and tournament paddles.
After gaining exposure in professional tournaments, Niupipo’s new products typically sold out quickly. “Almost every new release gets sold out in a short time,” Tang Fang shared.
Yet, solely relying on endorsements and tournament advertising wasn’t enough. With the support of Haofang Group’s marketing team, we expanded our brand presence on major social media platforms like Meta and Instagram, consistently updating brand news, collaborating with athlete endorsers, and building a dedicated fan community.
In August 2022, with Haofang Group’s help, we launched Niupipo’s independent website, establishing a dual-channel model with both the site and Amazon.
“At first, Niupipo wasn’t well-known, making Amazon, with its established traffic and user base, a great choice. But as the brand grew, establishing an independent website became crucial. It encapsulates the brand image and magnifies its presence,” Tang Fang added. “Today, with both platforms, Amazon focuses on sales, while our independent site emphasizes brand-building—each complementing the other.”
When compared to major brands like Nike, Haidi, and Fila, Niupipo may be considered a newcomer. They might not match up in terms of brand recognition or corporate size. However, in terms of a “user-centric” approach and “product innovation”, Niupipo has been unambiguous. As Tang Fang puts it, “From the outset, we’ve always stood by the product and the user.”
For instance, every product from Niupipo undergoes rigorous drop and destruction tests to prevent pickleball paddles from damage during transportation. “If a product shows wear after a drop test, we’ll enhance the tightness of our packaging at the manufacturing level,” explains Tang Fang.
Moreover, customer feedback is highly valued. On one hand, the team promptly addresses sudden issues that emerge on the Niupipo customer service end. On the other, they analyze Voice of the Customer (VOC) data from the Amazon platform, encompassing product reviews, issues encountered by after-sales teams, reasons for product returns, and more. Adjustments are then made in conjunction with real-time factory situations.
Alex Gong states, “We adhere to a monthly data review and analysis, ensuring Niupipo’s Consumer-to-Factory (C2F) improvement pathway operates highly efficiently.”
For instance, associations for pickleball paddles in North America, regional governments, and even individual local buyers approach Niupipo for customized paddles. Tang Fang says, “This isn’t just about trusting Niupipo’s products. It’s a commendable testament to our innovation capability.”
Speaking of innovation, Niupipo has invested significant effort. Back in 2018, when Niupipo first entered the Amazon platform, they introduced single and double paddle sets—two SKUs. Alex Gong recalls, “At that time, no other sellers on Amazon were offering double paddle sets.” Meaning, Niupipo was innovative from the start.
In subsequent years, Niupipo has consistently planned their product line based on user demographics, needs, and contexts. By considering user feedback, they were industry pioneers in launching professional, casual, parent-child, elderly/children gift paddles, and other product lines. Their current product range caters to essential market demands.
Take their professional pickleball paddle, for example. They proactively collaborate with pickleball associations and professional players, gathering detailed improvement suggestions from the latter. This helps in developing new products tailored for very specific use-cases, like paddles designed for open-air venues with wind.
Facing competition from major sports brands and North American pickleball paddle brands, Niupipo’s user-and-product-centric philosophy has set them apart. In a list published by “US Sports Illustrated” for “Best Pickleball Paddles of 2023”, Niupipo was the first to be recommended and was ranked as the paddle with the best overall performance.
Data indicates that in 2019, pickleball paddles held about a 16% market share in the pickleball market, while related shoes and apparel surpassed 38%. By 2022, the pickleball apparel market grew by 9.4%. By 2026, it’s expected to grow by another $680 million. In contrast, the paddle market size is only anticipated to reach $200 million by 2028.
Furthermore, compared to online sales, offline channels still dominate, boasting nearly a 60% share.
“Expanding our range of pickleball sport accessories and apparel, diving deep into various professional paddles, developing paddles to cater to a broader audience…” Alex Gong speaks with immense confidence and anticipation about Niupipo’s plans for the next 3 to 5 years.
Alongside, Niupipo plans to expand offline, exploring overseas markets and developing offline dealers to uncover more growth opportunities.
2023, we moved into our newly completed factory. What’s certain is that our journey overseas is still ongoing, and promises to be even more thrilling.”
We will Contact you within 1 working day, please pay attention to the email with the suffix “@dinkpickleball.com”.